The Floating Village

As you may recall, I’ve taken a teaching position in a small village of Southwestern Alaska.  I’ve been incredibly busy since my first day of arrival on August 2nd, almost every weekend occupied with professional training or cross country meets.  One of my athletes made it to the state finals in Anchorage, but we’ll save that story for another day.

I’ve kind of fallen in love with Atmautluak, aka, Atmau.  It’s beautiful and peaceful.  There are plenty of challenges for me to dive into.  My mind is occupied with all of the things a first-year teacher juggles.  But when I look out my very large window, I see a place of wonder and contrast.

Atmau is a Delacroix Island of the North.  It’s a fishing village lying in one of the largest river deltas in the world — larger than the Mississippi Delta itself.  Two of Alaska’s largest rivers — the Yukon and Kuskokwim — form the Y-K Delta with endless swirls and pockets of fresh, muddy water.  Part of the region is protected as the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.  The Refuge alone covers an area three times the State of Vermont.  The total area of the Y-K Delta is roughly the size of Louisiana.  Atmau, like Delacroix Island, lies just above sea level.  Unlike Delacroix, it’s 80 miles from the ocean by navigable water.  Still, Atmau is a buoy in the tidal plain, even this far away from Kuskokwim Bay.  The river flows in both directions, following the ebb and flood of the Bering Sea.  IMG_0624.JPG

The back and forth of the slow, flat river is a metaphor of a village that seems, for outsiders, a place of contrasts.  The landscape is beautiful, but trash litters the boardwalks.  There’s open water everywhere, although municipal water must be filtered and allocated on a daily basis.

Water, mud, and permafrost dictate the layout of infrastructure and day-to-day living.  Homes and buildings are raised on piling foundations hammered down to the permafrost.  Atmau is a floating village.   There are more boats than four-wheelers, and there are no cars.  (Well, there’s this one sinking into the muck.)

Boardwalk 1

Boardwalks make up the island’s primary road system.  Wide enough for a person to stand aside as a four-wheeler passes, the walks may be flat, wavy, or partially underwater.  One step off the boardwalk and you may be up to your knees in mud.  At best, you’ll be standing on a spongy surface of tundra marsh.

And then there’s the outdoor basketball court.  Basketball is pretty huge in the Lower Kuskokwim School District.  In the summertime, when the school gym is unavailable, this is where kids shoot hoops:

IMG_0248.JPGPretty cool, eh?

That’s all for now.  I’ve heard good things are happening in Northfield.  A good night was had by all at the second annual Night on the Common.  Northfield Falls is now a Designated Village Center, which puts it in the same position as the Common area for development and grant opportunities.  The Promise Community playground concept is evolving.  Keep up the good work, Northfield!

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Author: Nate Freeman

-- DIrector of Strategic Partnerships Northfield Community Development Network (NCDN) -- Selectboard Member, 3-year term -- Member, Economic Development Committee -- Member, School Improvement Team at the Northfield Middle/High School -- Member, Northfield Teen Center Advisory Committee

2 thoughts on “The Floating Village”

  1. Woah. Can I visit? Are there any accommodations for tourists?

    Also, any particular reason you went out here? I can see you’re teaching, and I know that you have a history with Alaska, but just that doesn’t seem like enough to merit such a big move.

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    1. Hi Sam! Bethel, AK is the nearest place with lodging — about 18 miles away as the plane flies. Of course, you and Alice are welcome to come stay with me for a few days. Early August is the best time to visit anywhere in Alaska. : )
      As for why here? Well, it’s a great place to be a teacher from a financial, professional, and personal fulfillment perspective.

      Like

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